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Northern Ireland hotels facing a nightmare Friday 13th over closures

One venue prepares multiple rotas for staff as it awaits the green light

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Frustration: Ken Sharpe of The Salty Dog hotel in Bangor

Frustration: Ken Sharpe of The Salty Dog hotel in Bangor

Frustration: Ken Sharpe of The Salty Dog hotel in Bangor

Hotels say they face "a nightmare Friday the 13th" on top of closure costs of £7m as the Executive waits until after the weekend to confirm if they can reopen.

Hotelier Ken Sharpe said he had prepared two rotas for either eventuality, as four weeks of coronavirus restrictions requiring the closure of hospitality and close contact services are to expire on Friday.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said on Thursday they hoped to make an announcement at the start of the week on whether further restrictions will be imposed.

Dr Tom Black, the chairman of the British Medical Association in NI, has said reopening hospitality on Friday would be "an act of careless vandalism".

The Hotels Federation said the cost of closure reached £7m for the industry, with furlough alone costing £1m every month.

Mr Sharpe said he was waiting to receive a grant from the Department of Finance, which is to pay between £800 and £1,600 a week to firms which have had to shut.

Janice Gault, chief executive of the NI Hotels Federation, said venues were reeling from the loss of the sale of 280,000 bedrooms, as well as 200 weddings and the cancellation of Halloween celebrations.

And while the industry would benefit from extension by the Chancellor of the furlough scheme until the end of March, hotels would still be incurring costs of covering pensions and national insurance contributions.

Mr Sharpe, the owner of boutique hotel The Salty Dog in Bangor, said his frustration was mounting.

He said: "I've had to send out two rotas - one rota for trading from Friday, which will mean being open from Wednesday to get ready, and another one on the basis we don't open and are still sticking to takeaway only.

"My staff have no certainty regarding their plans, childcare, we've no certainty about what to order but most suppliers happy enough to work with us. But my gut feeling is we won't be open and the Executive will take the opportunity to bring us in line with England by staying closed until the start of December."

He said he was steadily using up cash reserves and was still waiting to receive his grant from the department.

"It's a small amount but it would bridge a few gaps. We're on a rent holiday from our lease -we normally pay £8,000 a month - but it will all have to be repaid at some stage."

The department has issued £2.6m in grants through the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme after regulations enabling the payments last Friday.

A spokeswoman added: "Land & Property Services are working through applications as quickly as possible."

Ms Gault said the industry had been "demonised" by "inflammatory statements", adding: "There have been many inflammatory statements, with the hospitality sector firmly pitched against the health mandate.

"After three long weeks, there is still no clear idea when we will reopen or what reopening will bring. In order to trade viably there needs to be a sustainable framework agreed for hotels and the wider industry."

She said it cost hotels between £25 and £30 a week for each employee on furlough, amounting to £1m a month.

They had also spent over £5m to make premises safe and Covid secure, "and yet demonisation of hospitality has continued".

She added: "Our primary responsibility is the health and wellbeing of our staff and guests. The outbursts and vilification of the sector has been damaging.

"The nightmare of the Friday 13th reopening trundles on. There are no winners in this dilemma, with hotels most certainly one of the biggest losers in an increasingly worrying situation".

An Executive spokeswoman said: "Ministers have been working closely with the sector and will communicate any decisions as soon as possible after the Executive meets early next week."

Belfast Telegraph


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